Maltese cuisine is both fresh and flavorful, combining Italian, French, British and Arabic culinary influences, all brought to the islands by historic occupiers across the centuries.
Maltese restaurants serve up traditional favorites, including hearty rabbit dishes and Mediterranean seafood, while fine dining and fusion eateries celebrate an even greater diversity of global flavors. Complementing Malta’s dining scene are well-regarded winemakers and a concise but innovative crew of craft brewers.
Celebrate the tradition of Malta's national dish
Malta’s quintessential main course is fenek (rabbit). Most restaurants offer a take on the nation’s favorite meat, whether fried in olive oil, roasted, stewed, served with spaghetti or baked in a pie. Rabbit is eaten to mark a special occasion, when it's called a fenkata, and dishes such as spaghetti with rabbit ragu are enjoyed with red wine.
Where to try it: A gourmet version, incorporating rabbit into a ballotine with rosemary and pistachio stuffing, is a menu highlight at Townhouse No 3 in Rabat. Diar il-Bniet, a farm-to-table restaurant near Malta's spectacular Dingli Cliffs, serves traditional pan-fried rabbit cooked with garlic and wine. They also offer farm-to-table cookery classes, beginning with a morning visit to their nearby farm to gather ingredients. Their onsite shop is a good place for edible gifts and souvenirs, including jams, olive oil and traditional peppered sheep’s cheese.
Feast on seafood in Marsaxlokk
Unsurprisingly for an island surrounded by the Mediterranean, Malta's restaurants serve a wide range of local fish and crustaceans. Most popular is lampuka (dolphin fish), often eaten baked with tomatoes, onions, black olives, spinach, sultanas and walnuts as torta tal-lampuki (lampuki pie). The classic place to eat seafood is Marsaxlokk, a port town in southeast Malta where brightly colored fishing boats bob in the harbor. After Sunday morning's popular market, locals and tourists linger over leisurely waterfront lunches.
Where to try it: Lampuka is a perennially popular dish at the atmospheric Tal-Petut in the quiet backstreets of Birgu in Malta’s historic Three Cities. Tartarun offers sophisticated and global takes on traditional seafood – try the Asian-inspired swordfish tataki with cucumber relish – while the octopus carpaccio and aljotta (a Maltese traditional seafood soup) are highlights nearby at Marsaxlokk’s more relaxed and casual Roots.
Enjoy fresh local produce on Gozo
Malta’s smaller sister island of Gozo is famous for its cuisine. The island is more rural, with farms and estates growing grapes, vegetables and olives and producing cheese from sheep and goat milk. Grape varieties native to Gozo and Malta include Girgentina and Ġellewża. Excellent restaurants feature a strong emphasis on fresh and seasonal local produce.
Where to try it: Most renowned is Tmun Mġarr, set close to Mġarr's harbor and lauded for superb steaks and ocean-fresh seafood. Located in Gozo's glorious hilltop citadel, Il-Kastell, Ta' Rikardu features local honey, cheese, and the owner's rosé wine, while it's a short drive to Ta' Mena's rural location for wine produced under their Marsamena and Ancient Gods labels. Also, look forward to exploring Ta'Mena's farm shop crammed with Gozitan sea salt, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and capers, and book online for Saturday afternoon tours around their vineyards and olive groves.
Treat yourself to Malta’s best fine dining
Malta’s best fine dining destinations combine award-winning innovation with a focus on seasonal ingredients and frequently blend global and traditional Maltese flavors.
Where to try it: Highlights of the Michelin-starred menu at Valletta’s Noni include local sea urchin with pomelo and dashi pear or Gozitan cheese with pumpkin. Another essential fine-dining destination is Tarragon on Malta’s northern coast, with a strong focus on ‘field-to-fork’ ingredients. Locavore menu highlights include risotto with wild nettles and beef carpaccio with Maltese capers. Around Rabat and Mdina in central Malta, an emerging fine dining scene includes Root 81 and Townhouse No 3.
Devour flatbread sandwiches crammed with the best of Malta
Another signature Maltese snack is ftira, a traditional Maltese bread baked in a flat ring. It makes for delicious sandwiches, usually stuffed with a substantial and punchy mixture of olives, capers and anchovies, together with the tangy local tomato paste made from sun-dried tomatoes ground with rosemary, sugar and other secret ingredients.
Where to try it: Try ftira at Nenu the Artisan Baker in Valletta. The long-established restaurant offers 'Bake your own Ftira' sessions for visitors wishing to uncover local secrets, and also a full menu of traditional Maltese favorites. In Rabat, Ta' Doni team ftira sandwiches with local craft beer for a perfect lunch before or after exploring the walled city of Mdina, while across on Gozo in the village of Nadur, Mekrens and Maxokk are two decades-old bakeries serving ftira fresh from their wood-fired ovens.
Fuel up with Malta’s national snack in Rabat
The Maltese national snack is pastizzi, little triangular filo-pastry parcels filled with a fragrant mix of peas and spices or ricotta cheese, ideal for a pit stop between meals. In most towns, there are clusters of pastizzerijas, small fast-food outlets specializing in pastizzi. Don’t be surprised to also see a few less traditional places now experimenting with more modern fillings like Nutella or caramelized apple.
Where to try it: The best pastizzerijas freshly make their pastizzi on the premises, and one of the islands' most renowned is the humble Crystal Palace in the attractive town of Rabat in central Malta. You’ll be able to spot the hole-in-the-wall cafe by the queues outside, and there's usually a steady stream of taxi drivers snacking before their next fare. Like all cabbies, they know when they’re on to a good thing.
Sip on craft beers from island breweries
Seasonal brews harnessing ingredients from Gozo include Flinders Rose gose (a salted Leipzig-style wheat beer) with local caper flowers, a honey winter ale with Gozo carob honey, and a brown ale made with locally foraged wild fennel seeds.
Where to try it: Malta's most established craft brewery is Lord Chambray, with beers available at bars and restaurants across Malta and Gozo, and also at their relaxed taproom near the Gozitan village of Xwekija. Valletta's 67 Kapitali bar pours a wide range of Lord Chambray's brews as well as beers from other Maltese craft breweries, including Huskie and Stretta.
Join a walking tour exploring Malta's culinary heritage
Valletta's honey-colored labyrinth of plazas and laneways is best negotiated on a walking tour with Offbeat Malta Food Trails. Classic Maltese flavors such as rabbit, pastizzi and ftira are all sampled, as well as exploring newer culinary directions, including artisan chocolate, wine and craft beer. Tours also focus on the historical and cultural forces that have shaped Maltese cuisine across the centuries. To quickly get up to speed with the local food scene, book a tour for when you first arrive in town.
Vegetarians and vegans
Many traditional Maltese dishes happen to be vegetarian, calling for ingredients like artichokes, broad beans, cauliflower and cabbage, depending on the season. Check before ordering if these contain meat stock or tuna. Most restaurants offer meat-free dishes like vegetarian pizza and pasta. While vegetarians are reasonably well catered for, vegans are less so.